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Leave your excuses at home: Inside the mind of a celebrity trainer

“You stop, you start over again,” Rich Barretta calmly says to one of his clients. The poor guy is about to quit. “Wear it out, I don’t care… three… two… one. One. Nice.”

Personal Trainer, Rich Barretta

The client is on the floor, performing a shoulder movement, much like a breast stroke, only with 15-pound dumb bells. “How do you feel?” Barretta asks him. Silence, just the sound of Oasis singing “Sally Can Wait” in the background. “So, what’s next?” Barretta now asks. It’s a rhetorical question, obviously. The poor guy suspiciously takes a sip of water and stands up. “I’ll take 15 cause I know you’re starting to struggle,” Barretta tells him.

Rich Barretta has been called a god when it comes to personal training and is considered by many to be one of the best personal trainers in the industry. Perhaps this is why his clients not only includes a mixture of regular people but professional athletes and celebrities as well. Most notably, Pierce Brosnan, Michael J. Fox, Freddie Prinze, Jr. and David Blaine.

Barretta doesn’t rely on conventional methods of exercise. Maybe this is due to his vast knowledge of biomechanics which he uses to develop personalized programs for his clients, “you should be completely exhausted by the end of your workout, unable to continue,” Barretta explains.

“I find in your personality what you like to do, then I have to get creative,” Barretta has said. Recently, I had the opportunity to find out how Barretta thinks and what makes a trainer, who relies on the psychology of physical punishment to motivate people to “stand on their own.”

Stefan PintoThere are fitness trends, Michelle Obama arms or the Hugh Jackman Wolverine Workout, but these are all basic principles of working out and when combined with diet, the results are almost guaranteed. As a celebrity trainer, do you feel people need some sort of “associative aspect” or, I suppose, a feeling of possibly being someone else, to make them want to change?
Rich Barretta: No, Michele Obama and Hugh Jackman are in the public spotlight. Hugh was hired to play a character in a movie and his job required him to look the part. Being the consummate professional, he did what it took to train his ass off and be very diligent about his diet. Michelle knows how brutal the press can be on celebs— if there are any flaws, they will point it out… they will! The problem for the average person is: it’s not their job, they’re not being critiqued by the media.  It’s easy to say, “What the hell, it’s not that important, I’ll start again tomorrow” and to just eat the cheesecake.

SPWhat results do you think people want the most?
RB: To lose weight! Pick up any magazine and it’s all about how to lose weight, fast!  Everyone uses the scale to determine their level of fitness. How about your cardio, strength, stamina, flexibility, diet (that’s not a verb, it’s a  noun: your carbs, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals) and percent of subcutaneous fat on your body aka “the meat sweater”?  Not to mention your mental health; are you happy?

SPRight. When Bill Clinton was in office, you astutely commented that the then President “runs a couple of miles a day, but then he goes home and who knows what he eats.” Everyone assumes Barack Obama is our fittest President, do you think so? What do you think his routine must consist of (if he has one)?
RB: President Obama is an athlete, which is different than just going for a run. As far as being the most fit, I’d have to say ‘yes’ due to the fact of who our previous presidents were during the fitness boom that began in the early 70’s: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Regan, Bush, Clinton and Bush. I don’t remember seeing any of them aerobicising or with their shirt off showing their rock hard abs! I’m sure Obama enjoys playing hoops when he gets the chance. I get the impression he enjoys exercise, I just couldn’t be sure what he does.

SPLet’s talk about the widely popular reality show, The Biggest Loser. Admittedly, I’m not a fan; I think their techniques are unrealistic not to mention impractical. It’s more of a freak show, frankly. Where is the line drawn between entertainment that is fiction and entertainment insinuating that which is possible?
RBThe Biggest Loser, I watched it once the first season at the request of one of my clients. The trainer had an obese women do 500 squats and 500 lunges in addition to running. The first thing I said was, “this poor women is going to get hurt…feet, knees, spine, etc.” Lo and behold she’s at the doctor’s office going over x-rays of the stress fractures in her feet. He recommends staying off her feet for several weeks to let them heal. Problem is most trainers have a boot camp mentality; they’re going to pound you into shape never considering the possible damage or injury they may cause. It’s stupid, reckless and unnecessary to get the end result. However, would a women walking at an incline or working through a controlled burn in the muscle with limited stress on the joints be as appealing as say, beating a de-conditioned obese person up and down a beach in blazing heat?

SPYour general philosophy seems more practical than many trainers, what do you say to a potential new client who seems to want as-close-to instant results that are simply not practical?
RB: Very simply, if it sounds too good to be true it usually is!

Barretta believes that while bulging, phenomenally defined muscle tone was considered the fitness ideal at that point during the 1980’s, a different philosophy now defines the fitness scene. “In the 1980’s, all men wanted to look like Arnold Schwartzenegger, and women wanted to be Linda Hamilton,” says Barretta of “The Terminator” stars who defined the 80’s aesthetic. “Going into the new millenium, the whole goal of working out is different: men are following fashion more than ever before and still want defined muscles, but with a body shape and size that still looks great in clothes. Women want to emphasize strength and flexibility, but are re-embracing the curvy female form.”

Rich Barretta runs a training facility in New York City and encourages clients to leave excuses at home. Find out more about Rich Barretta at